Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer faces two political longshots in the Democratic primary race for governor, giving her time to focus her efforts on a general election run against the likely Republican nominee, U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski.
In the primary, Ulmer faces candidates Michael Beasley of Fairbanks and Bruce Lemke of Anchorage. Both have done little campaigning.
Beasley has raised about $1,700 and Lemke said he is not raising contributions or actively campaigning. In comparison, Ulmer has raised $892,000 and spent $454,000.
Ulmer and Beasley said they do not support moving legislative sessions out of Juneau to Anchorage or the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. Lemke did not register an opinion on the matter.
Though primary races often are used as early polling devices to help predict the outcome of the general election, Ulmer said the new closed ballot primary system could obscure the numbers.
Under the new system voters are allowed to cast ballots only in their party's primary. Those registered nonpartisan, undeclared or other can pick from one of the six party ballots on election day.
Ulmer has made two of four planned policy speeches running up to the Nov. 5 general election. The first two covered economic development and making Alaska a better place to raise a family. The last two will address education and the state's fiscal gap.
Ulmer said she plans to release her education plan just before school starts Aug. 28. She will release her fiscal plan in a speech scheduled for September.
"Clearly (solving the fiscal gap) will involve a number of things," she said. "Every task force that has looked at this problem has said that - that it will require using some of our savings account, and it will require some new revenues, and it will require budget discipline."
Ulmer said the next governor will have to work with the Legislature to devise a plan that works for business, communities and the state.
She proposes inflation-proofing the funding formula for school districts and working to attract and retain teachers in the state.
Accounting for inflation in the state's education funding formula is the responsible thing to do, Ulmer said, noting it's important for districts to know they're not losing ground.
"Every year the dollar is worth less, and the education dollar is worth less," she said.
She also proposes helping high school students go on to become teachers through scholarships and mentoring programs.
Ulmer said she supports any natural gas pipeline route that gets gas to market, is economically viable and benefits all Alaskans. She also supports expediting the permitting process for development of the state's natural resources.
"I've been told by a number of project managers, not just in mining, but in oil and gas and a variety of different arenas, that the decision-making process is cumbersome," she said.
She proposes commissioning an independent audit to find inefficiencies in the system.
"It's not to dilute the standards," Ulmer said. "Clean air, clean water, habitat and wildlife protection - these are important values to Alaskans."
Ulmer said she would aggressively support the fishing industry and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute to market wild Alaska salmon. She also plans to implement regional fishing boards to ease the responsibilities of the state Board of Fisheries.
Upcoming primary coverage
Tuesday's Empire will profile candidates running for governor in the Alaskan Independence, Libertarian, Green and Republican Moderate party primaries. Wednesday's articles will examine lieutenant governor candidates. Coverage of candidates running for the state Legislature and U.S. House and Senate will run Sunday through Thursday, Aug. 22.
Ulmer said her tenure in public office as mayor of Juneau, a four-term lawmaker in the state House of Representatives and two-term lieutenant governor has prepared her for the responsibilities of running the state.
"I would argue that Sen. Murkowski's last 22 years of experience in Washington, D.C., equips him to serve in the United States Senate, but I would argue that it does not prepare him very well for being governor," Ulmer said.
Beasley, Ulmer's only competitor in the Democratic primary who has raised money or attended public events, called the fiscal gap "a fantasy" and said he would not implement taxes or use earnings of the permanent fund.
Beasley, who has run for governor and other statewide office before as a Democrat, said he opposes drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for another four years, when he says technology now being developed in Europe will make such a project safe for the environment. He was unable to name any of the companies or where in Europe such technology is being developed.
"It would be the absolute destruction of the last natural wildlife and nature reserve in the new world," Beasley said. "Only a vote for me can save that whole area from turning into another Prudhoe Bay."
He said he would also eliminate arrest quotas that he says are implemented by police and state troopers.
Bruce Lemke, a retired logger, construction worker and commercial fisherman living in Anchorage, said he is running primarily to protest overfishing by commercial trawlers, which is damaging the marine ecosystem. He added that the state should take responsibility and initiate a more aggressive marketing campaign for Alaska wild salmon.
Lemke ran failed campaigns for the governor's office in 1982 as well as the state House of Representatives in the late 1980s.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.